Remember when Donald Trump’s presidential campaign first died? It was during his candidacy announcement speech 23 months ago when the billionaire noted Mexico was sending drugs, crime and rapists into the country.
Or the next month when the loud New Yorker with no military service demeaned the Vietnam War record of Sen. John McCain, which included six-plus years of torture as a POW. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said. That was surely the end of Trump’s presidential ambitions.
Then the next month after the first nationally televised GOP primary debate, when moderator Megyn Kelly read a list of his misogynistic comments, a fuming Trump said: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Then the infamous old video with Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” quote certainly doomed his White House hopes, everyone wrote.
Trump’s outrageous comments didn’t end. “Look at that face!” he said of GOP competitor Carly Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that?”
But Trump’s campaign didn’t end – not until he won the presidency on Nov. 8 in a stunning upset that still haunts Democrats.
Now, nearly four months through Trump’s first term, the highly educated media elite in Washington, who were so sure they’d be covering the first female president this spring, fully expect Trump’s political base to crumble. They are so determined to find his failing base that they’re wish-casting, writing about it anyway based on flimsy anecdotes.
And they wonder why trust in media has tumbled. An AP poll this winter found only 6 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in media, a miniscule level right down there with Congress. Another survey found a larger plurality place more trust in the Trump administration than the once-hallowed fourth estate.
And as for those massed Trump supporters surely fleeing their one-time savior, according to hard data, they’re going nowhere.
A Pew Research Center poll last month found minimal Trump voter remorse, only 7 percent.
A subsequent Washington Post-ABC News poll found even fewer regretful Trump voters, 4 percent. In fact – wait for it – far more voters regretted casting their ballot for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, 15 percent. But you haven’t read that very much, have you? It doesn’t fit the crumbling Trump base narrative.
In a hypothetical rematch of the November election, Trump easily defeats Clinton in the popular vote, 43 percent to 40 percent. In the real deal she won the popular vote 48 to 46. Of course, Trump won where it mattered, in the Electoral College, 306 to 232, 36 more votes than needed.
Trump’s early job approval is historically the worst of any new president since such polling began. Too early to tell if Trump’s latest firing, this time of the FBI director, will have any effect on Trump’s loyal posse.
The trouble for Trump opponents is that those who do approve of Trump are sticking with him. Although at one point this winter his job approval dipped into the 30s, it’s now hovering in the mid-40s, right around his percentage of the popular vote last fall.
As it was in the voting last November, that’s one important measure of the widespread, festering dissatisfaction with Washington and its ongoing operating mode. So unhappy were millions of Americans with the congressional gridlock and its dysfunctional relationship with an aloof White House that they consolidated their political hopes in one party, the Republicans, giving them both houses of Congress and the Oval Office.
So dissatisfied are they with standard politicians of both parties and their lack of response to repeated calls for change that voters somehow looked past the crude, boorish, self-centered behavior of candidate Trump because he promised to drain that swamp. He was going to ride into town, shoot it up and destroy the bipartisan elite establishment that’s in the political game for itself.
Given that scenario, the fact that Trump is a self-proclaimed rookie politician and a faux Republican untethered to core ideological beliefs is a good thing. He is the anti-pol, which is good enough for many for now.
The question is, can an anti-pol effectively work with real pols to run an immense government structure while seeming to fulfill promises to his hopeful base? And how long will its patience endure?
In terms of producing signable legislation with a GOP Congress that tilts more conservative than he does, Trump’s record is spotty so far. In terms of producing an image of action through a flurry of some three dozen executive orders, many of them undoing his predecessor’s executive orders, Trump has excelled.
Next week Trump escapes the cumbersome clutter of domestic policies to step on the world stage. In an artfully constructed itinerary, the new president will visit the capitals of three major religions – Riyadh, Jerusalem and the Vatican. Given his statesmanlike behavior when Trump visited the Mexican president during the campaign, the international journey could be a boon to his standing back home.
Of course, it’s unwise ever to use current polls as predictive, as anything more than a contemporary snapshot. Remember the 90-plus percent chance of a solid Clinton victory?
However, we do now have almost two full years of data showing Trump’s base resistant to erosion. His critics can hope that aged Democrat leadership in Congress remain united in simple, policy-free opposition. And they can hope that fractious Republican majorities tar Trump with an image of ineffectiveness for his first midterm elections next year, when historically the party occupying the White House suffers congressional losses.
But in politics, like most human endeavors, hope is not a strategy. And counting on a Trump implosion based on available evidence today is more of a dream.
Andrew Malcolm began writing on U.S. politics in 1968. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AHMalcolm.